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ArlingtonWork advances on marker to honor educator Syphax

Work advances on marker to honor educator Syphax

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Some details remain to be worked out, but plans are moving forward on the quest to honor the late Evelyn Reid Syphax with an historical marker at the Arlington school system’s headquarters.

Syphax (1926-2000) was an educator, civic leader and philanthropist. Among her achievements was service on the county School Board.

“She did just an incredible wealth of things in her life – I’m not sure how she managed it,” said Serena Bolliger, a county-government planner, during a presentation before the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) on Dec. 21.

The presentation and ensuing discussion were not designed to finalize wording and design of the of the marker, but to gather input that will be used to revise the preliminary design.


“We wanted to at least get the conversation started,” said Cynthia Liccese-Torres, who heads the county government’s historic-preservation staff.
HALRB members were asked to provide any further feedback in advance of the organization’s January meeting.

Born in Lynchburg, Evelyn Reid earned a bachelor’s degree in English and language arts in 1948 from Virginia Union University – she would remain a benefactor and champion of the university throughout her life – and a master’s degree in early-childhood education from New York University in 1954. Moving to Arlington in 1951, she was a public-school teacher for more than two decades, and in 1956 married into the historic Syphax family in a union with Archie Syphax.

In 1963, Mrs. Syphax launched a child-care center, and was an early booster of Montessori-based education. She was active in efforts to implement desegregation of county schools in the 1960s-70s, and served on a number of state educational-advisory panels.

In 1956, Mrs. Syphax established a Northern Virginia chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and was founder and first president of the Northern Virginia chapter of the Coalition of 100 Black Women.

With her sons – Rev. Archie Syphax Jr. and Craig Syphax – she was a driving force for the establishment of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, having previously served as president of the Arlington Historical Society.

Through the years, Mrs. Syphax was honored as “Woman of the Year” by the Inter-Service Club Council of Arlington (1981) and a “Notable Woman of Arlington” by the Commission on the Status of Women (1992).

Following her death, the school of education at Virginia Union University was renamed in her honor.

After the county school system moved its administrative offices to a leased building at 2110 Washington Blvd., the School Board voted to name the site as the “Syphax Education Center.”

Where exactly the marker would be placed – on the building, inside it or nearby – remains to be determined.

The marker is one of a number currently in the pipeline, Bolliger told HALRB members. Another member of the wide-ranging Syphax family – Margarite Syphax – is expected to be honored for the construction and management company she operated with her husband, William T. Syphax, which grew to become one of the largest such minority-owned firms in the nation.

Bolliger said she hopes to use 2023 to begin looking at where there are gaps in historic markers, suggesting possible new ones in the community to help “move the narrative of the county forward.”

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